The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, opening its 1999 session, this morning heard an appeal by the Secretary-General for the implementation of agreements reached at the recent Wye River talks by Israeli and Palestinian representatives.
In a statement read on his behalf by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, the Secretary-General said the signing of the Wye River Memorandum offered hope that the momentum of peace could be recaptured. The international community should not lose sight of the gains the peace process had brought thus far, nor should it forget that success in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could lead to progress on other tracks.
Also this morning, the Committee re-elected, without a vote, Ibra Deguene Ka (Senegal) as Chairman, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla (Cuba) and Ravan Farhadi (Afghanistan) as Vice-Chairmen, and George Saliba (Malta) as Rapporteur. It also adopted its draft programme of work for 1999 (A/AC/183/1999/CRP.1) and considered matters related to the Bethlehem 2000 International Conference, to be held in Rome on 18 and 19 February.
The Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Ka (Senegal), said it was actively organizing the Bethlehem 2000 Conference and that the Committee's delegation would consist of: the Chairman; the two Vice-Chairmen; its Rapporteur; the Permanent Representative of Guinea, and the Permanent Observer of Palestine. The Conference would be opened by Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Mr. Prendergast, would represent the Secretary-General.
Italy's representative stressed the importance of concrete actions for peace, and said the Conference could promote dialogue and cooperation among countries of the region with the assistance of the international community.
Also this morning, the Permanent Observer of Palestine said that Palestinians called for support for a draft resolution -- before the resumed tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly -- which, among others, urged the convening of a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention to look at the situation in the occupied territories.
Cuba's representative also drew attention to the draft resolution, stating that his Government supported the search for measures to strengthen the operation of the Convention in the occupied territories.
In other action, the Committee approved Yemen's request to be an Observer. In a statement, Yemen's representative regretted that Israel was attaching unacceptable terms to the accords which had been concluded and was attempting to change the principle of "land for peace" to "security for peace". That would increase tensions and exacerbate instability in the region.
At the outset of the meeting, a minute of silence was observed in memory of Jordan's King Hussein, whose funeral was held on Monday, 8 February, in Amman. Mr. Prendergast, on behalf of the Secretary-General, the Committee Chairman and the representatives of Ukraine, Tunisia, Cuba, Yemen, as well as the Permanent Observer of Palestine, expressed condolences.
The General Assembly, at its fifty-third session, requested the Committee, among other things, to keep the question of Palestine under review and make recommendations to the Assembly and the Security Council. It also asked the Committee to cooperate with Palestinian and other non-governmental organizations in mobilizing international support for the achievement by the Palestinian people of their inalienable rights and for a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People met this morning to elect officers, adopt its draft programme of work and to consider matters related to the Bethlehem 2000 International Conference to be held in Rome on 18 and 19 February.
KIERAN PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, began the meeting by expressing deep sadness at the passing of King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan. Reading a message on behalf of the Secretary-General, he said the international community was mourning the loss of one of the greatest men of the century. An outstanding leader, admired worldwide for his wisdom, far-sightedness and political courage. King Hussein had worked hard for years to put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict and, in recent years, dedicated his efforts to the Oslo peace process and to helping his Palestinian and Israeli neighbours to come to peace with each other and to become partners. He extended his heartfelt condolences to the Government and the people of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and to the members of the royal family.
VOLODYMYR YEL'CHENKO (Ukraine) said he wished to subscribe fully to the Secretary-General's words on the passing of King Hussein. He expressed the condolences of the Government and People of Ukraine.
M. ALI HACHANI (Tunisia) expressed his sadness at the loss of King Hussein of Jordan.
The Committee's Chairman, IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal), also expressed his condolences on the death of King Hussein.
Following the election of the Committee bureau, Mr. PRENDERGAST, Under- Secretary-General for Political Affairs then delivered a statement on behalf of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who, he said, had been looking forward to being at the meeting, but had not yet returned from King Hussein's funeral.
He said the fifty-third session of the General Assembly had remained actively involved in matters relating to Palestine, reflecting the United Nations commitment to the cause of peace, security and stability in the Middle East. The Assembly's tenth emergency special session had been resumed, demonstrating the international community's mounting alarm at the worsening situation on the ground and the lack of progress in the peace process. Also, the Assembly had adopted a resolution entitled "Bethlehem 2000" in support of efforts to mark the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. He hoped that event would be a powerful symbol of peace and reconciliation within and beyond the region.
Despite frustration and despair in the past year, the Palestinian people had taken significant steps towards achieving their goals, he said. The Assembly had conferred additional rights and privileges of participation upon Palestine, as observer. In Gaza, the opening of the international airport heralded new trade and cultural relations.
The signing of the Wye River Memorandum offered hope that the momentum of peace could be recaptured, he continued. Regrettably, in recent weeks, the international community had witnessed another standstill in the peace process. He appealed to the parties to summon the will and the wisdom to move ahead without delay in accordance with the agreements already signed. It was crucial that the parties remain committed to the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). The international community should not lose sight of the gains the peace process had brought thus far, nor should it forget that success in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could lead to progress on other tracks. Real progress was the best antidote to violence and the best response to disruption, destruction and doubt.
Nearly one year ago, as Secretary-General he had visited several countries in the Middle East and the territory under the Palestinian Authority, he said. Those with whom he had met were unanimous in thinking that animosity and mistrust could become a thing of the past through the resumption of bilateral negotiations. But, also, exasperation had been expressed about the enormous difficulties encountered in achieving even the slightest headway, and real anguish at the failure to find a durable political solution.
During the trip, he had witnessed the hardship and deprivation caused to the Palestinian people by decades of conflict, he continued. He had come away from his visit even more convinced that the improvement of economic and social conditions were central elements of the peace process. Some progress had been made in that regard, including the creation of employment opportunities and improvements in health and education, but much was yet to be accomplished.
Last November, in Washington D.C., 43 nations had participated in the Conference to Support Middle East Peace and Development, he said. That meeting had brought an estimated $3 billion in new pledges of assistance. The United Nations was fully engaged in helping to build the foundations of peace, and providing vital services to millions of Palestinian.
The question of Palestine had been on the Organization's agenda since its earliest days, he said. Palestinians who had lost their homes and hopes found themselves in the tragic position of passing on to future generations only family histories and unmet aspirations for peace. "Let this be the generation that knows the end of a terrible, costly conflict", he said. "Let the generation of today bequeath to their sons and daughters not the yearning for peace, but peace itself".
The Committee Chairman, Mr. KA (Senegal), speaking in his capacity as Permanent Representative of his country, said he fully appreciated the historic responsibilities incumbent upon the Committee in the present decisive and historic phase of the peace process and would shoulder his responsibilities as Chairman, clearly aware of the United Nations indispensable role in achieving a peaceful settlement to the question of Palestine.
He said he was pleased to note the increasing interest in the situation triggered by the Committee amongst its members, observers and other players in civil society. South Africa and Namibia had joined the Committee's membership in 1998 and soon Yemen would be welcomed as an observer.
The recent tragic events in Jordan were of such gravity that the Secretary-General had himself attended the ceremony, he said. That fact illustrated his ongoing commitment -- both on behalf of the Organization and on the personal level -- to reconciling the question of Palestine and the Israel-Arab conflict in general. His travels to that region and the message he had delivered in Gaza a few months ago bore witness to his determination to contribute in every way possible to the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine.
The Bureau was determined to strengthen and streamline the Committee's actions, he said. It had already devised a work programme for 1999. Little more than one week from now, from 18 to 19 February, in Rome, an international conference would be held on Bethlehem 2000. He hoped it would provide an opportunity to the governments, civil society organizations and the international donor community to contribute to restarting the dialogue for peace and reconciliation in the region.
RAFAEL DAUSA CESPEDES (Cuba), added his voice to the condolences expressed by other representatives on the death of King Hussein, a man of peace. He also thanked delegations for the support given to Mr. Rodriguez Parilla in his election as Vice-Chairman.
He stressed the support Cuba gave the programme of work of the Committee. The potential now existed for more effective work in advancing Palestinian rights. In the context of the tenth General Assembly emergency session, a resolution would be adopted whereby a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 would be called to look at the situation in the occupied territories. His Government supported the search for measures to strengthen the operation of that Convention in the occupied territories.
In Rome this year, the Bethlehem 2000 conference would take place, he continued. He trusted that it would add to the success of Bethlehem 2000, as well as advancing the just cause of the Palestinian people. The firm support of all delegations would be indispensable in achieving the Committee's goals.
M. NASSER AL-KIDWA, the Permanent Observer of Palestine, thanked the Under-Secretary-General for presiding over the meeting. He asked him to extend thanks to the Secretary-General for his continuous support of the Committee's work. He understood the reasons for the Secretary-General's absence, as he was in Jordan to pay tribute to King Hussein. He shared the views of previous delegations in reiterating condolences to the Hashemite family and the Jordanian people on their grave loss.
It was a source of pleasure for him to extend congratulations to the Chairman and Bureau for their re-election, he said. He also thanked the country of Senegal for its continuous support for the Palestinian people. The growing feeling among Palestinians was that they were approaching the achievement of their inalienable rights, thanks to the backing of the international community, including the Committee, and the struggle of Palestinian people.
There were many important dates in 1999, he said. The end of the transitional period agreed to in the existing Palestinian-Israeli accords -- a period of 5 years -- would end on 4 May. The end of the year marked the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third. He also felt that the achievement of the noble goal of the Committee was close. The remaining time meant that Palestinians needed, more than ever, the support, solidarity and endeavours of Committee members.
He then referred to the tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly. On the expected adoption of the important draft resolution presented to the members of the Assembly, he expressed the hope of obtaining the support of all members and observers of the Committee for the resolution. It would lead to practical steps, including the conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to be held on 15 July this year, to consider the means of enforcing the provisions of that Convention in the occupied territories.
The Chairman, Mr. KA (Senegal) informed the Committee that he had received a note verbale from Yemen, informing the Committee that the Government of Yemen wished to participate in the work of the Committee as an observer. He was confident he spoke on behalf of all members when he said he was delighted to welcome Yemen as an observer.
The Committee approved Yemen's request without a vote.
MOHAMED ABDO AL-SINDI (Yemen) extended condolences to the people and Government of Jordan and to the family of King Hussein. He noted the Committee's efforts to carry out the duties entrusted to it by the General Assembly, to implement resolutions and support the Palestinian people in the course of the transitional period. The Committee's efforts had resulted in a number of resolutions by the General Assembly in the main part of its fifty- third session.
However, he added, it was regrettable that Israel continued to attach unacceptable terms to the accords that had been concluded. It had invited firms to sign contracts for constructing settlements in the southern part of occupied East Jerusalem and persisted in repressive activities against the Palestinian people. Attempts were being made to change the principle of "land for peace" to "security for peace", which would increase tensions and exacerbate instability in the region and the world.
He called for the achievement of a just and comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, which would lead to prosperity of the peoples in the region. The Committee must appeal to the United States, the Russian Federation and other interested States to renew efforts to activate the peace process for a comprehensive and just solution, in accordance with the principle of land for peace.
Considering the Bethlehem 2000 International Conference, which will be held in Rome, from 18 to 19 February, the Chairman, Mr. KA (Senegal), said the Committee was actively organizing the Conference, aimed to promote the Bethlehem 2000 Project launched by the Palestinian Authority. He hoped the Conference would allow governments, intergovernmental organizations, parliamentarians, religions and cultural institutions, the private sector, the international aid community and non-governmental organizations to engage in a more in-depth dialogue on the promotion of peace and reconciliation and review the status and needs of the Project.
The Conference would be opened by Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lamberto Dini, he said. The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, would represent the Secretary-General. The Conference would also be attended by: the President of the Committee for the Great Jubilee for the Year 2000 and head of the Holy See delegation, Roger Cardinal Etchegaray; the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Jacques Diouf; the Mayor of Rome, Francesco Rutelli; and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. In addition, it would be attended by: the Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Said Kamal; the Under-Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil Kassis; the Chairman of the Bethlehem 2000 Committee, Hanna Nasser; the Mayor of Bethlehem and many other eminent personalities.
Invitations to attend the event had been sent to United Nations Member States and observer States, system organizations, intergovernmental and non- governmental organizations and media, he continued. He expressed sincere appreciation to the Government of Italy for hosting and supporting the event and for contributing to it generously. The Italian Government was organizing a number of functions in connection with the event, as was the municipality of Rome. It was envisaged that the Committee's delegation would be received by His Holiness Pope John Paul II.
He then saluted the presence in the meeting of Francesco Paolo Fulci (Italy), thanking him and his delegation for their dynamic support. It was the first time an international conference had been organized with so few problems.
FRANCESCO PAOLO FULCI (Italy) said the Government and Parliament of Italy had understood the meaning of the Bethlehem 2000 initiative both in the United Nations context -- recalling the resolution adopted by consensus in November 1998 by the Assembly -- and also in terms of the positive impact it could have on the Middle East peace process. Stressing the importance of concrete actions for peace, he said the Conference could promote dialogue and cooperation among countries of the region, with the assistance of the international community.
The Italian authorities had immediately responded to the choice of Rome as the site of the Conference, he continued. Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs would be opening the Conference and a large delegation of Italian parliamentarians would be participating. To make the visit even more pleasant, he had asked "his number two", Pier Benedetto Francese, to accompany the Committee's delegation during the visit to Rome, as he would be unable to do so, because of work related to the reform of the Security Council. He wished the trip every success.
The Chairman, Mr. KA (Senegal) appealed to members and observers of the Committee who had not yet indicated their intention to attend to inform the Bureau of their decision as soon as possible. The Committee's delegation to the Conference would consist of: its Chairman; its two Vice-Chairmen; its Rapporteur; Mahawa Bangoura Camara, the Permanent Representative of Guinea; and M. Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Permanent Observer of Palestine.
Mr. AL-KIDWA, the Permanent Observer of Palestine, said the cooperation shown in supporting the unique and significant celebrations of the beginning of the third millennium in Bethlehem was a source of pleasure to him. It was also gratifying that the General Assembly would adopt a consensus resolution on that, and that the Committee would take initiatives to organize an international conference on the occasion. He was also grateful for the friendly response to the conference from the Italian Government and pleased that the Vatican also supported it, as did His Holiness Pope John Paul II.
He was also pleased that so many friendly governments had demonstrated interest in the occasion, he continued. That was a source of optimism. He wished to join the Chairman in thanking Mr. Fulci (Italy) for his efforts and for the efforts of his colleagues in the Italian delegation to the United Nations. He was confident that the conference would achieve spectacular success.
He also wished to welcome Yemen as an observer in the Committee. Its presence would enhance the importance of the Committee and its ability to continue to discharge its duties. It would also enhance the prospect of solidarity and support.